The motivation for my new co-authored book is three-fold. First, Intercultural Communication is one of the top 3 most-offered communication classes across the country, often fulfilling Core/General Education requirements for cultural diversity. However, most instructors who teach the class are only taught how to teach Public Speaking (if they receive pedagogical training at all) and are not specifically taught intercultural communication, which is quite different. Second, some instructors are even handed the class because they look “intercultural,” which unfairly saddles instructors of color and international instructors with additional pedagogical burdens without having excellent resources with which to teach this class. Third, even for the most experienced and knowledgeable instructors, the intercultural communication classroom can be an emotionally and intellectually heavy place for many students and teachers, like other classes that also fulfill our Cultural Diversity (CD) requirement. Sensitive topics arise and students must face complex issues with intellectual curiosity and collegial respect. To navigate the precarious waters of intercultural communication, teachers need an intentional, proactive approach to foster meaningful discussion and learning.
After struggling to teach this type of course and navigate the difficult conversations in each class, my co-author and I created this book as a sort of pedagogical guide. Each chapter presents conceptual overviews, student activities, and problem-solving strategies for teaching intercultural communication. We work our way through eight categories of potential conflict, including: communicating power and privilege, community engagement in social justice, and assessing intercultural pedagogies for social justice. In addition to empirical studies and our own classroom experiences, our book features personal narratives of junior and senior intercultural communication teacher-scholars whose journeys will encourage and instruct readers towards more fulfilling teaching experiences. We wrote this book so that anyone could pick it up and have a stronger foundation for teaching these topics. It is well suited for new and continuing instructors of courses that teach about culture, diversity, and social justice (particularly Intercultural Communication) and for graduate students learning how to teach these topics.
I’m excited to use the principles of this book in my own teaching, more intentionally. I have yet to teach Intercultural Communication since the publication of the book, but have been rethinking the content and structure for the next time I teach the course. I’m anxious to hear feedback from others and to continue to grow in my pedagogical approach.
For the majority of us who identify as higher education scholars, we are in this field because through our own educational or professional experiences we saw problems in the way higher education is shaped and shapes others. We were called to scholarship as a way to examine these problems, find solutions and contribute to a vision of a better system of higher education. Our individual work is situated within the broader mission of the university, which has a commitment to serving the public good, achieved in large part through our research.
Traditional graduate school experience trains us to write for publication in academic journals, primarily read by academics. We are encouraged to present in the more prestigious conferences of our field, attended largely by other scholars. Further, the reward structures of academe value these types of contributions above all else. Despite efforts to resist these pressures, jobs need to be obtained, tenure and promotion need to be earned, and our value in the field needs to be recognized. Time being finite, these efforts come at the cost of other forms of engagement that speak to the very reason why we entered the field of higher education in the first place.
The problem, however, isn’t that we publish in academic journals and present at academic conferences. These are important spaces of knowledge dissemination. It is an invaluable part not just of academe but of our society as a whole—a space where ideas are shared and debated, where we can trace the contours of our collective imagination for how we see and address problems, and where research and scholarship can exist for the sake of their own existence.
The problem lies in the fact that much of the fruits of this knowledge gained stops within these spaces. Not everyone has access to these spaces, and not all voices are permitted to be amplified within them. As social scientists, we do not have the privilege to be so elitist so as to limit our knowledge to just one another.
There are a number of ways of translating our work for diverse audiences. Starting with the academic format we are socialized to communicate within as academics, journals and conferences that speak to policy- and practitioner-based audiences are valuable outlets. These spaces are important in fostering knowledge exchange around policy and practice. Just as important as the rigor reflected in our research are the ways we can utilize this work to inform change in our higher education system. Translation is needed to better connect our work to its own value within our respective fields. This can be a challenge, and require reshifting and reframing of our work, but we have an obligation to undertake this work.
Leveraging the public attention through blogs, op-eds, policy briefs, TED talks, keynote engagements, and social media are also promising and valuable ways of reaching broader audiences. Higher education scholars like Marybeth Gasman and Julian Vasquez Heilig often use these channels of influence to advocate for the higher education equity issues they research. This expands our audience reach to inform not just policy and practice, but also the public conscious around higher education.
As a field, we need to do more to develop and institute this value of translating our work. Faculty in higher education programs can incorporate assignments that have students write in various formats beyond just the traditional research paper. In my classroom, students read and write reports and op-eds. We workshop the process of discovering your voice to bridge ideas to public discourse. Further, faculty can also play a role in shaping reward systems. More value to these types of engagements needs to be added within the tenure and promotion (T&P) processes. Institutions like Loyola Marymount University have supplemented their traditional T&P requirements to account for public engagements as part of a measure of faculty’s contributions. Lastly, technology makes options like publicly-available webinars valuable outlets for communicating with administrative, practitioner and public audiences. The National Institute for Transformation and Equity (NITE) has embraced this through their Webcasts on Equity and Change (WOCE) series that brings together scholars and practitioners around relevant topics related to equity in higher education.
Being called to the work of higher education, our work cannot stop at just examining issues. We have the responsibility to communicate and engage with those who can put our research into action at the policy and practice level. Making our work more accessible and breaking down our complex ideas and higher education jargon is even more needed within our current anti-intellectual context that emphasizes 140-characters or less bits of information. As a field, we not only need to do better, but we have an obligation to do so to fulfill our commitment to contribute to improving higher education.
Sonja Martin Poole’s research explores gamification and influencing behavior. During our conversation, we discussed her path to becoming a professor and how she navigates interdisciplinary research.
When you started at the University of California Berkeley, were you focused on becoming an academic or did you consider going into business?
Even though I come from a long line of educators, I wasn’t focused on becoming an academic. My grandfather was a geography professor for many many years at Southern University in New Orleans, which is where I’m from, and my grandmother was an elementary school teacher. My mother is an elementary school teacher. I have an uncle and two aunts who are university professors. I wanted to do something different than everyone else in my family, so I initially went to college with the intent to be a lawyer. In the middle of freshman year, I decided that I wanted to go into business. However, I took microeconomics, one of the prerequisites of the business major, and said, “This is it. This is a new way of thinking. I love this.” I got a bachelor’s in economics and then later a master’s in public sector economics. I had no idea at the time what I would do with my economics training. I was just intrigued by it.
While I was in graduate school, I worked as a high school teacher in a public school. It was then that I started asking economic questions about educational institutions. I became interested in studying the ways in which education resources are distributed in our society and if there’s a way that we can develop educational systems that are more efficient. That’s what I studied in my Ph.D. program.
Somewhere along the way I then became intrigued by the ways that educational institutions strategically attracted students, maintained a student body, and communicated value. That’s a marketing question, so after my Ph.D., I did a post-doc in marketing.
Was it the experience in the classroom that made you want to change the world?
I really wanted to improve people’s lives, and I saw how educational systems can influence people’s beliefs, behaviors, and life trajectories. In graduate school, I wanted to study how we can improve these structures.
What work are you most proud of?
Right now, I’m looking at the ways in which games can influence people’s behavior. I first became interested in this topic when tracking devices for fitness came out like Fitbit. This device had a gamified aspect. Within the application, users can compete not only against themselves and their own progress but against others that you may or may not know. It presents an incentive to do more. I found myself drawn to this device and to the activity that the device personally encouraged me to participate in.
I then began to wonder if gamification can be used to influence other behaviors, ones that have a big impact on our environments and communities. Can we use it for getting people to recycle more, drive safer, or donate to charitable causes? What about using the tool to reduce or eliminate social problems such as racism, poverty, or disease? Can we get people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do just by making it fun? I am interested in the practice of influencing people to do things that are not only good for them, but also for society as a whole.
How does your research come into the classroom?
My students are the best people to run my ideas by because they’re honest, and they’ll give me hypotheses to test in my research. For that reason, I love dealing with students regularly because they bring fresher ideas to light.
A few years ago I developed a course called Marketing for Social Change. In this course we examine marketing strategies that can influence individual and collective behavior for social good, and while teaching this course, I identified my interest in gamification. Gamification was introduced as a possible means to encourage pro-social behavior and I got a sense from my students that it is worthy of further study.
Your work sounds very interdisciplinary. How do you navigate the different disciplines or how do you try to work between them or with them?
Economics is the basis of all that I do. It’s all about incentives, incentivizing behavior, and that is my foundation. When I was in my Ph.D. program, I got into educational policy with the idea that I was going to apply economics and economic decision-making tools to education policymaking. As a marketing professor, I now use behavioral economics to understand and explain consumer behavior. Marketing and education are both disciplines that are based on some other foundational discipline, such as psychology, sociology, or economics. We use the foundational disciplines to inform what we do in marketing and education. I tend to think like an economist.
How has being at USF impacted your research?
USF has been supportive of the kinds of things that I want to do. Every activity that I’ve been involved in has been not only encouraged but also supported through resources and collaborations and people wanting to help. I feel that spirit of helpfulness throughout everything that I’ve done here and almost every interaction at USF, and that includes writing retreats that are supported by the school to make sure that researchers get research completed and writing done.
USF also provides opportunities, such as the Ignatian Faculty Forum, to consider our role as professors, Ignatian values and mission, and how those things relate. The development opportunities help to shape my ideas around what I want to do in the classroom and in my research. In addition to that, I participate in different faith formation activities here at USF. They are particularly valuable for thinking people. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in those kinds of opportunities whether they be the Spiritual Exercises or silent retreats, or any other University Ministry activities. That’s really the unique aspect of being here at this University—finding out how your spirituality and your sense of self relate to your work. It’s very hard to separate that out—who you are spiritually and your vocation are intimately connected, or at least I believe they should be. I really appreciate those opportunities to think through and talk to other people about these ideas.
What brought you to USF?
I believe that the university mission is in line with my own personal mission. I came to USF because I wanted to be an agent of change. As long as the university continues to be about social justice and life-changing action, I will love being here.